At the Penn FTD Center, we are particularly interested in studying the behavioral and social cognition deficits exhibited by patients with the behavioral variant of Frontotemporal degeneration (bvFTD). Patients with bvFTD exhibit disinhibited and impulsive behavior, apathy, disregard for social norms, loss of sympathy and empathy, altered notions of morality, inappropriate social judgments and difficulty decoding the emotions and mental states of others. Given their profound behavioral and personality deficits, bvFTD patients provide a window into the function and dysfunction of the “social” brain.
The Penn FTD Center uses a variety of methods to the study the behavioral changes typical of bvFTD. Some of the behaviors we study:
Persons with Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) can have problems with motivation or apathy resulting from the direct physiologic effects of the disease process. The syndrome of apathy has profound consequences for patients and for family caregiver burden. At the Penn FTD Center, we use a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the neural mechanisms that contribute to apathy in persons with FTD. Our goal is to understand the anatomic basis for the processes contributing to apathy in order to improve diagnostic accuracy and interventions tailored to target specific impairments that cause apathy.
Impulsive and disinhibited behaviors are a diagnostic feature of bvFTD and can lead to devastating social and financial consequences for patients and their families. At the Penn FTD Center, we use a multidisciplinary approach to study the neural basis of impulsivity in healthy aging and patients with behavioral-variant Frontotemporal degeneration (bvFTD). Our goal is to elucidate the fronto-subcortical networks that are necessary for different types of impulse control and to develop novel impulsivity tasks that can be used to diagnose and track progression in bvFTD.
The behavioral variant of Frontotemporal degeneration (bvFTD) is characterized by impairments in social interaction. These social deficits have been linked to several factors, including degraded social and emotional knowledge, difficulty decoding the mental states and intentions of others, and impaired appreciation of risk and reduced sensitivity to negative consequences.
While the social breakdown of patients with bvFTD has been extensively described, this research has generally relied on behavioral questionnaires, caregiver observations and neuropsychological tests. At the Penn FTD Center we are piloting the use of simple paradigms derived from behavioral game theory to directly assess dynamic social interactions. Preliminary results show that bvFTD patients have trouble with simple neuroeconomic tasks such as Coordination, Dictator and Ultimatum games. Aberrant performance in these tasks may be related to difficulty in perspective-taking and insensitivity to negative consequences, functions thought to be subserved by prefrontal and limbic areas of the brain.